Tale of two teachers

Above: : I stop at the local hotelier on the way home to relate my marvellous tale.

I met an English teacher from another school at a conference last week, who startled me by proudly stating over coffee that he banned computers from his classroom, ‘I want them writing, not typing!’, he proclaimed as if that was a great line.  I must admit I was nearly shocked and must have showed it.  I asked him why, particularly since his school and the parents  had invested a fair bit of money in ensuring that every student had a notebook computer which they could use in all their subject, except this one of course.

I said all the usual things you might expect, that wasn’t the computer a great tool for writing?, that surely the creative and collaborative opportunities might just interest you a bit?, that this was a tool that students generally enjoyed working with and seemed particularly useful in an English classroom? Wasn’t he interested in student’s blogging, or redrafting easily, or sharing their work with others online? I probably should have let it go but I persisted; what was it about the computer that so offended him that it’s very presence should be cast out?

In the end it seemed it was three things (I simplify):  that a computer is a typewriter and students don’t type their final exams, they handwrite them. That some students were playing games on their computers when they should have been working on their English. That some students were paying more attention to their computer than their teacher (lookatmoi!!!)

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than three nanoseconds you’ll know how well that went down with me and I think I might have even said something like, ‘I wouldn’t want you teaching in a school I was in’ or something to that effect. And this man is probably a good teacher, well liked and respected by his students. We parted company soon after, going our different ways across the biscuits and Nescafe.

I know another English teacher, from another school, who has taken it upon himself to lead and develop the other English teachers at his school. He began using OneNote as an organising tool for himself about five years ago, and then with his senior English classes. He used his tablet PC to annotate and review student work and email it back to them and he started blogging for them, and sharing his blog with students from other schools, gathering thousands of ‘hits’. Late last year he started producing some audio podcasts for his students on key aspects of the course. He’d get the students to download them to their computer and some would put them on their ipods to listen to later. This week he sent me a link to a screencast he’d created using Screencast which was a visual and audio overview setting up the structure of an essay for his senior English class. He’s been playing around with Camtasia too, as a tool for helping students build skills.

It’s not the done thing in the education profession to criticise other teachers. It’s anti-collaborative and just helps to push people into extremes of perspective and hide-out with their ideological pals in the staff-room or the computer room.  (See my earlier post about identity!) Any talk of teacher appraisal or performance quickly has to answer to questions about team-work and the importance of teachers learning together, not competing with each other.

Fair enough too. We’re not cookie cutters and getting into quantifying what a single teacher has contributed to a student’s learning journey is a slippery slope. Still, I know which of those two teachers classes I’d like my own children in.